Windows 11 NTFS vs. ReFS: How do these file systems differ?

These are the main differences between ReFS and NTFS.

Windows 11 file system
Windows 11 file system

Microsoft is almost ready to bring the Resilient File System (ReFS) to Windows 11 (or 12). Although ReFS has been around for many years (since Windows 8), the technology has been available for secondary drives, and it isn’t until the most recent previews of Windows 11 that the company begins to push ReFS as the file system for the bootable partition of the operating system.

A file system is a technology that manages how data is stored and retrieved from the partition. Similar to previous versions, Windows 11 continues to use the NT File System (NTFS), which was first introduced in 1993 as part of the Windows NT 3.1 release, and even today, it’s still the most popular around.

Although NTFS has been offering many features to manage data on a partition, such as reliability, performance, and others that aren’t available in other file systems, this technology has been around for many years and is not ready for many of today’s requirements. For this and other reasons, Microsoft has been working on ReFS to replace it.

This guide will briefly compare ReFS and NTFS for the desktop version of Windows.

NTFS vs. ReFS major differences

Here’s the difference between NTFS and ReFS on Windows 11.

ReFS is a new file system technology based on NTFS designed to overcome the limitations of the legacy file system. One of the main benefits of the new file system is that it can handle a large amount of data.

When Microsoft developed the file system, the company focused on several key points: compatibility, high availability, data integrity, resiliency, and scalability.

Compatibility is important to maintain support with the NTFS features since this file system will be around for the foreseeable future. This also means that the data stored on a ReFS volume can be accessed by any other operating system supporting access to NTFS volumes.

Some of the features from NTFS available in ReFS include BitLocker, mount points, junction points, security, USN journal, volume snapshots, symbolic links, file IDs, change notifications, and oplocks.

Some of the features not available on ReFS include named streams, object IDs, extended attributes, file-level encryption, compression, sparse, hard links, quotas, and short names.

High availability means that the file system can isolate the section of the partition with problems while offering continuous access to the rest of the data in the event of corruption. In addition, the file system supports sharing the storage across devices providing load balancing and fault tolerance.

Data integrity allows ReFS to verify and correct data and metadata on demand (without restarting the computer) in the event of corruption. This is done with the “integrity stream” that analyzes the checksums for metadata to detect the error and the disk scrubbing feature to correct problems for existing but not yet developed drive errors.

Resiliency is a feature that works alongside Storage Spaces to offer high availability of data using different storage configurations with multiple drives, such as mirror and parity.

Scalability means that the file system can handle very large amounts of storage, overcoming the limitations of NTFS. For example, a ReFS volume can support up to 1.2 trillion terabytes (1 yobibyte), and the maximum file size could be 16 million terabytes (16 exabytes). On the other hand, NTFS volumes can be up to 256 terabytes.

Other features include better handling of data scripting performance and redundancy for fault tolerance. Also, using only one instruction, the system can read and write data on files, lowering disk IOPS per transaction and bringing power consumption, storage usage, and memory down.

As part of other performance benefits, the file system improves performance for virtualization using Block cloning and Sparse VDL. In a nutshell, Block cloning is available on servers to speed up the copy process, improving the merge of the virtual machine checkpoints, and Spare VDL is a feature that helps to speed up the process of creating fixed virtual disks.

It’s important to note that ReFS cannot be used for removable drives, such as USB flash drives. Similar to other file systems, the Resilient File System doesn’t offer an option to convert to another file system, which means you will have to back up the data, reformat the drive, and restore the data to change file systems.

ReFS vs. NTFS pros and cons

The following information shows some of the pros and cons of NTFS and ReFS.

Pros for NTFS:

  • Widely available file system.
  • Volume size limit of 256TB.
  • Stable since it’s been around for years.
  • BitLocker encryption.
  • Access control list and file IDs.
  • File compression.
  • Removable storage support.
  • Removable media as the boot drive.

Cons for NTFS:

  • Self-repair error feature is not supported.
  • Block clone and Sparse VDL support are not supported.
  • File-level snapshots are not supported.
  • Offline drive access is not supported.

These are the pros and cons of ReFS:

Pros for ReFS:

  • Volume size limit of 1YB.
  • Maximum file size 16EB.
  • Self-repairing error support.
  • Data corruption avoidance support.
  • Offline drive access.
  • BitLocker encryption.
  • Block clone and Sparse VDL support.
  • File-level snapshots support.

Cons for ReFS:

  • Not widely available.
  • Not completely stable.
  • File system compression is not supported.
  • Removable media boot is not supported.

It’s unclear when Microsoft will make the Resilient File System available as the primary file system for the operating system. Although the file system appears to be more integrated into the latest preview of Windows 11, the company may have plans to reserve the feature for Windows 12.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].